KONFRONTASI- South Korea said on Friday it was seeking high-level talks this month with North Korea to prepare for a summit and that South Korean President Moon Jae-in may meet Donald Trump before the U.S. president’s planned meeting with the North Korean leader.
Amid a flurry of diplomacy from Asia to Europe to Washington, Trump reaffirmed his plan to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un by the end of May during a phone call on Friday with Moon and both voiced “cautious optimism” about efforts to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
A White House statement said Trump and Moon discussed preparations for their upcoming engagements with Pyongyang and agreed that “concrete actions,” not words, were the key to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
They “emphasized that a brighter future is available for North Korea, if it chooses the correct path,” it said.
Earlier, Moon’s chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, said proposed North-South talks in late March would cover key agenda topics and other details of the pending summit between Moon and Kim.
The New York Times reported on Friday that Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo, whom Trump nominated this week to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has been playing a lead role in planning the talks and has been conducting back-channel communications with North Korean representatives.
Pompeo has engaged with counterparts through a channel that runs between the CIA. and North Korean counterpart, the Reconnaissance General Bureau. He remains in close touch with the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, said a U.S. official familiar with the preparations.
For many years, the main and often only channels of official communication between Washington and Pyongyang have been South Korea’s intelligence service and North Korea’s UN Mission in the United States, the official added.
The official confirmed that Pompeo has taken the lead on planning because after the departure of Joe Yun, the State Department’s point person on North Korea, intelligence agencies are the main source of expertise on the country.
The planning is at “a very early stage,” the official said.
If North Korea agrees to the talks, they would offer an opportunity for Pyongyang to break its silence on what Seoul says is Kim’s desire to meet Trump and Moon and his willingness to freeze his country’s nuclear and missile programs.
“We’ve decided to narrow down the agenda topics to denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, securing permanent peace to ease military tension and new, bold ways to take inter-Korean relations forward,” Im, the head of South Korea’s summit preparation team, told reporters.
Im said Moon may meet Trump after an inter-Korean summit but before Trump’s planned summit with Kim in May.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Moon pledged in the call with Trump to cooperate closely with Washington on summit diplomacy. Trump asked South Korean officials to show flexibility in trade negotiations with the United States in the call, the South Korean presidency said.
Even amid North Korea tensions, Trump has repeatedly denounced a U.S. free trade deal with ally South Korea as “unfair” and threatened many times to scrap it.
Senior South Korean officials met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang this month and told Washington the North Korean leader was open to giving up his nuclear weapons if North Korea’s security was guaranteed.
Trump responded with a surprise announcement that he was willing to meet Kim in a bid to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.